Taking care of your mental health in a time of uncertainty

Mental health during COVID-19

There is a sense of comfort that comes with the feeling of certainty. As humans, we like to be in control and know what is happening at all times and when it’s happening. And when things feel uncertain or we don’t feel safe or in control, we feel stressed or anxious.

This reaction is designed to protect us – like with a fight-or-flight response.  But, it can cause mental havoc and ignite conflicting information around us that aggravate anxious feelings.

With the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19), it’s natural for many of us to feel stressed or anxious. But it’s also important to remember that, although you might not be in control of everything happening around you, you can always choose how you decide to respond.

  1. Focus on what you can do. Identify what is in your control and what is not. There are many things you can do, and it’s helpful to focus your energy on those. Wash your hands often, and remind others to wash theirs. Practice social distancing and limit your news consumption, as this can increase stress and reduce your overall wellbeing.
  2. Keep a healthy routine. Your immune system weakens when you’re stressed, making you more susceptible to illness. It’s important that you continue to look after yourself. Follow a consistent sleep schedule, consume a balanced diet, exercise, wash your clothes after coming back from outside and take warm showers to help you relax.
  3. Stay connected. Isolation doesn’t need to equal loneliness. Although it can be challenging to keep the dialogue going with your child when the day has been long for both of you, try these easy-to-remember conversation starters to help and plan for fun things you can do together. Set up virtual gatherings with friends and family or watch a movie through a Netflix Party. You can also find different ways you can get involved in your community, such as by showing your appreciation for health workers or helping your local hospital.
  4. Practice what feels right to you. Do what works for you, not others. Everyone has a different coping mechanism, so it’s important that you don’t compare yourself. It’s okay if you want to read a book all day or do a home workout because it gives you a sense of safety.
  5. Enjoy the fresh air. Being locked inside all day can make you feel trapped. Try opening a window, standing outside your balcony or going for a walk around your neighborhood to get some exercise and vitamin D.
  6. Be in the present. With so much uncertainty around us, it’s easy for you to worry about what is happening and start projecting into the future. Be mindful of when you catch yourself worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet to slowly bring yourself back into the present moment. Notice the sights, sounds, tastes and other sensory experiences around you at that moment and start naming them. Mindfulness can help you stay grounded when things feel beyond your control.

Help is always available. If you’re feeling alone and struggling, you can also reach out to The Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741 or National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. We are in this together. 

Daniel Watkins is the director of substance use services at Pathways, Anne Arundel Medical Center’s substance abuse and mental health treatment facility. You can reach him at 443-481-5434.